Building Teacher Skills Through Rigorous & Long-term Teacher Training Workshops & Support

Literacy levels have been persistently low in some areas with high concentration of tribal population in Thane district of Maharashtra. Learning difficulties for these children stem from lack of exposure to a literate environment, difference in home language (tribal languages) and curricular language (Marathi), and inconsistent academic input due to seasonal migration. Some of these children are enrolled in Ashram schools (special residential schools for tribal children under a government scheme) and although Ashram schools address the problem of migration, learning levels remain low because of inadequate understanding among teachers regarding the students’ learning needs. ‘Quality Education support Trust’ (QUEST) has two programs; ‘Lipi’, (a comprehensive literacy program for children in grades 1 to 3), and ‘Saksham’, (a literacy remediation program for children in grades 4 to 7 who do not read and write at their grade-appropriate level), and these workshops aim to build the skills of teachers through rigorous and long-term training and support.

Shikshak Mitras learning the art of storytelling in one of their workshops

During the eight month preparatory phase a team of Shikshak Mitras (mentors for teachers) who would provide support to the teachers through workshops and onsite support have been trained. These trainings are essential as almost all children going to Ashram schools are first generation learners, and have no exposure to any kind of print materials at home. For most of these children, the first encounter with the written word happens when they enter school. But, these Ashram schools, usually do not have libraries or rigorously trained teachers, and hence are ill-equipped to provide such exposure to children.

Moreover, the teachers don’t really accept the children’s mother tongue and don’t provide any opportunity for expression. Teachers also lack the knowledge and skills required to bridge the gap between children’s home language and the school language. Because of these conditions, children often experience literacy as taught in schools as something alien and remote from their lives, which in turn has an adverse impact on their motivation and learning levels.

As soon as the preparatory phase ended, QUEST started implementing the project in twenty Ashram schools which have been selected in consultation with the Tribal department of the Maharashtra government. To help teachers run these two programs in Ashram shalas, QUEST organized training for approximately 80 teachers from these schools to orient and train them on their methodology. We got the opportunity to attend these innovative workshops, and also interviewed the facilitator of these workshops; Archana Kulkarni. We have included excerpts from our interview below:

Sahdev Panwar (READ Alliance program officer) with Archana Kulkarni (QUEST trainer) during the Teacher training workshop

What is the purpose of these trainings?

These teacher trainings are to orient the teachers on the Saksham methodology, a level based learning program. The meaning of Reading is meaning making, but we have observed that a lot of the children don’t comprehend what they are reading. In the ‘Saksham’ program, we administer a baseline test to students studying in classes 4thtill 7th. Basis their results, the students are grouped into different groups, children at the same level are part of one group. This helps the teachers and us to cater to those students in a more defined and effective manner. These are need based inputs and such workshops endeavour to make the teachers understand this. The teachers know most of these things, but don’t know how to handle situations like these.

We also wanted to share the findings of the baseline tests with the teachers, so that they are aware of the process behind segregating students in different groups. It has been found that there are maximum students in the 0–25 and 25–50 percentile mark, with just handful students in the group of 50 and above percentile. Since the group size of 0–25 percentile is the maximum, it is impossible for a teacher to manage that group. To make these groups manageable, we have further divided these groups into sub-groups, this will also be shared with the teachers during these workshops. A class plan will also be shared with these teachers, which will act as a guide during the 45 minutes of the actual class. We have developed three books to help in this process, namely; Saksham 1, Saksham 2 and Saksham 3. Books will be given to each child and the teachers will be trained on how to use these books with children during this workshop.

Government school teachers engrossed in a session during the teacher training workshop

How did you all come up with the concept behind these trainings?

While we were working in Nandurbar (tribal district in Maharashtra) in 2008, we found out that students in class 5–8thhad problems in basic literacy. At that time we were working on teaching mathematics, but we slowly realized that without language, there can’t be any other kind of learning. We started some work on Level based learning during that time, but it was only in 2012, while working on the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidhyalaya scheme of the central government along with UNICEF that this Saksham program was seen as a solution to the problems plaguing the education system in these schools. But, we also realized that QUEST won’t be able to change the education landscape solely through its own trainers, collaboration and partnerships with schools teachers was a better and a much more sustainable solution.

Then we got down to designing the structure of these trainings. It was very clear that just conducting a few trainings a few times during the year won’t be very effective as they won’t equip the teachers with methods of dealing with real classroom situations. Some teachers think, “There are some difficulties which I can’t handle on my own, and the solution to these problems is not even with my peers, I need onsite support”. Coming across many such examples led to the inclusion of the component of onsite support. We have Shikshak Mitras who provide this support; and as their name suggests, they are mentors for teachers.

Shikshak Mitras during a training workshop

These workshops are designed in such a way that the Shikshak Mitras observe whether or not the teachers are implementing the inputs suggested during the first workshop. These are not just trainings, but practice sessions where we ourselves work with the teachers on issues that arise in a real classroom. Instructions and the way they are delivered plays a very important role in the ‘Saksham’ program. Our team observes and help the teachers refine the way they give instructions so that the essence of the program is not lost.

To break the monotony and energize the students in a class, we have built in a component of music and singing in this program. Whenever we feel that the students are getting bored and are losing interest in the class, we put our books aside and sing together. This ensures that the rest of the learning happens in a much more effective manner. So during these workshops, we train teachers on how to make the class more interactive, how to Read aloud stories with children using the correct punctuation, tone, pronunciation etc.

Teacher reading out a story

To measure the effectiveness of these trainings, we conduct a base line and end line of the teachers. This tells us how much the teacher has learnt through this one year, their understanding, their grasp of the methodology, their progress, the gaps and how can we improve the teacher training program.

We also have ‘Paripath’, a circle time- so these workshops also cover how the teacher should use this circle time to introduce various components of literacy and language learning. Some kids needs to be introduced to ‘Akshar Parichay’, while others need to be introduced to sentence formation, and for most of these children, who are not familiar with standard Marathi, teachers are encouraged to keep aside 15 minutes for Reading Marathi stories to them.

During these workshops we also talk about bridging the gap between the home language and the state language (Marathi). Almost all teachers feel that the child’s home language should not be rejected or ignored as that is the language he/she is most familiar with, but at the same time, it is very important to get them to learn the state language so that learning happens. There is a dedicated session where the teachers and QUEST team brainstorms and figures out the various ways in which this gap can be bridged.

Teachers are also encouraged to make their classrooms bi-lingual, where they use tribal language and standard Marathi so that the child can understand how to make the leap and start using standard language (most of us learn a language when we hear it repeatedly, but since these children don’t hear or come across standard Marathi, we can’t expect them to speak that language). Contextual books that have some resemblance to the background and contexts children are familiar with, help in this process too. QUEST has developed some contextual books, some of which are shared below-

Anurima Chatterjee (READ Alliance project director) going through a contextual book developed by QUEST

Lastly, a lot of children who come from tribal areas use colloquial terms while writing as opposed to pure Marathi words, and the teachers usually mark them wrong. We tell our teachers that it is their responsibility to interpret the written word correctly, as there are no non-verbal cues that are used to explain the answer/written word. Teachers are encouraged to go beyond the written word and analyse the answers to figure our mistakes, difficulties and gaps in the child’s reading ability.

Every school undergoing these programs are given a ‘bag of books’. These are essential as it’s a language program and the kids should read story books, and stimulating text. Teachers are introduced to this kit during the first workshop.

Given below are the various components of the Teacher Training workshops-

1. Building Theoretical Understanding

Workshops are organized to understand the theoretical aspects of literacy instruction. The workshops familiarize the teachers with aspects like

  • Role of stories in literacy
  • Reading and Writing
  • Curriculum Analysis
  • Library
  • Assessment of children’s reading abilities
  • Action Research

2. Reflective Teaching Experience

  • Practise session to help teachers understand about language pedagogy
  • Teachers are regularly assessed on their application of theoretical concepts learned during workshops in classroom

3. Being a change facilitator

  • Involving teachers in knowledge building activities like drafting lesson plans, planning, building exercises etc.
  • Provide continuous inputs to the teachers on the design of Lipi and Saksham programs

Originally published at designpublic.in on August 26, 2016.

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